Fruitfulness on the Frontline: Making a Difference Where You Are
Mark Greene, head of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, has written a highly accessible and practical book on whole-life discipleship for the average congregant. Too many of us in America are unaware of it since it was published by the English branch of IVP. But it’s available inexpensively on Amazon. And it’s the kind of resource pastors should buy in a pack of ten or twenty to have ready to pass out to sheep who feel discouraged about whether they are “making a difference for Christ” or if what they do “really matters in the kingdom” (two phrases I’d guess clergy and counselors here fairly often). Fruitfulness on the Frontline is anchored in scripture; offers a memorable framework of guidelines; and is replete in stories of ordinary people. British people, to be sure, and so some of the language and references are a bit obscure. But that should not deter American churches from using it.
This is not a theology book. It’s pitched at the 101 level and its audience is laity not clergy. It’s helpful for pastors in at least four ways, though. First, as already mentioned, it is a highly worthwhile resource to recommend to parishioners. Second, Greene’s 6M framework (more on that in a moment) could serve as the skeleton of a preaching series on the dimensions of whole-life discipleship. Third, it defines “frontlines” broadly, meaning that its guidance is relevant to the varieties of people’s daily callings: as employees, yes, but also as family members, schoolmates, or neighbors. Fourth, its discussion of biblical fruitfulness is one of the best I’ve seen in the faith-and-work literature.
Under the heading “bananas are not the only fruit,” Greene gets at the heart of what bothers so many workaday Christians. They’re convinced that getting their co-workers saved is the only worthwhile objective in “connecting their work and faith” and, since most aren’t born evangelists, they’re discouraged about the tasks they actually do all day long. As Greene puts it:
[I]f you don’t think anything other than evangelism matters to God, then at the end of an average day or an average week at work or at the school gate, it’s pretty easy to feel that you aren’t doing anything significant for God, that your day, your week has been a bit of a waste.
Green argues that just as bananas aren’t the only fruit, so new converts aren’t the only biblical “fruit” God’s concerned about. “Fruitfulness is the result of righteous living, of being planted in the house of God, of having one’s roots in God, or being in God,” Greene writes. The Old and New Testaments give examples of many different kinds of fruit, he says.
[G]ood fruit is any attitude, any word, any action that pleases God. Fruit is any consequence that is in line with his will—an animal properly cared for, a local pond cleaned up, a person saved, healed, fed, given a cup of cold water, taught, corrected, trained in righteousness, defended, rescued from injustice, or loved in any godly way. Fruit is anything done with authentic love [and] ultimately…fruit is anything that brings glory to God.
Indeed, the eternal value of the things we do today, Greene explains, are all about bringing glory to God. When we do good deeds that others can see and they glorify God in response, that is bearing fruit. And it’s fruitful whether the others do the glorifying right now or a long, long time from now. Fruitfulness, Greene explains, is not an end in itself but a means to end: pointing people to the wonder of God.
Greene’s 6M framework offers six lens through which to consider fruitfulness. The “Ms” are six questions every believer can ask herself. On our various frontlines, how might we:
M1: Model godly character?
M2: Make good work?
M3: Minister grace and love?
M4: Mold culture?
M5: Be a Mouthpiece for truth and justice?
M6: Be a Messenger of the gospel?
These questions are about attitudes, behaviors, and words. Greene devotes one chapter to each “M,” providing a description, biblical examples, and stories from ordinary believers. Every chapter also includes a short series of discussion questions at the end for personal or small group use as well as a short prayer.
Before launching into those six chapters (which form the meat of the book), Greene devotes one critical one that describes the biblical underpinning of whole-life discipleship. This is the basic argument from Colossians 1 about the grand scope of God’s redemptive purposes, with proper emphasis on the “all things” of Col. 1: 15-20. Then he makes the simple but oh-so-needed connection:
If all creation, visible and invisible, is his [Christ’s], wouldn’t he be interested in the impact that our activities in the kitchen, at school, in factories, fields, and offices, in government and radio stations and art galleries and hospitals and science labs have on his creation and on people created his image?…Often we tend to focus on the implications of Jesus’ sacrifice for personal salvation, but, as we have seen, Paul affirms God’s concern for ‘all things,’ God’s comprehensive plan for the restoration and redemption of the whole sin-marred universe.
Greene concludes that “the invitation to follow Jesus, then, is not just an invitation to spend eternity in his presence, not just an invitation to others to spend eternity in his presence; it is an invitation to cooperate with him in making his world as much like he intends it to be before he returns.”
Greene’s final chapter reminds me of what I’ve been hearing lately on ESPN (I’m writing this during the New Year’s college bowl season). Inevitably, one commentator or another will describe how coach so-and-so has done a great job bringing his team “back to the basics.” The point is that success on the field (or the court or diamond) almost inevitably correlates to those 101’s these talented athletes have heard about since they were children. It’s not that they haven’t graduated to more elaborate plays or more sophisticated offensive or defensive systems. It’s just that those won’t cut it without drills that hone skills and workouts that tone muscles. Greene’s closing words about how to endure as a person of fruitfulness on the frontlines, which are about prayer, Christian fellowship and Bible reading, might feel like a bit of a letdown. Truth is, though, those three are the basics without which we won’t adequately “remain” in the Vine. And we know from Jesus himself that apart from him we can do nothing, but that if we abide in him we will bear much fruit.Topics: Work and Discipleship, Work and the Bible